(slight spoilers for the character of Tessa)
“You want me to come home. But I am home.”
British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) meets the impulsive activist Tessa (Rachel Weisz), marries her quickly at her behest and takes her on diplomatic mission in Kenya. When Tessa is brutally murdered, Justin decides to investigate her death against the strong wish of his superiors to let the matter quietly disappear. He discovers a powerful mystery involving the members of the British High Commission and the not-so-savory business practices of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry. In the process of learning the secrets of his powerful enemies, Justin must learn all of his wife's many secrets as well and he finally gets to know her.
I saw “The Constant Gardener” years ago and it had a powerful impact on me. The movie is masterfully made and the story is complex but built around unique love, one that's not often seen in the movies. Justin and Tessa meet in passionate circumstances. He is peacefully giving the lecture and she suddenly starts yelling at him, demanding answers for why England is at war and why are diplomatic procedures ignored. Justin tries to answer her politely and calm her down, yet she keeps yelling. Everyone else leaves and embarrassed Tessa apologizes and invites him over for a drink. They talk, laugh, make love. Soon Tessa asks Justin to take her to Africa with him. Enchanted by interesting girl he agrees and they marry.
At first, movie plays tricks with us – because of clever editing and non-linear storytelling Tessa appears to be almost sinister – she seduces Justin, uses him to get to Africa, so it seems, maybe even has an affair with many men. But along with Justin we discover real Tessa – through their friends' stories, videos on computers, e-mails and letters Justin gets to know his wife, for the first time. All the puzzles starts to fit together and they create the image of the woman he never knew. He realizes how much she loved him, how much of herself she sacrificed to protect him and his innocence. He realizes that she would never hurt him nor cheat on him and something that he suspected to be a clever ploy of manipulative woman, wasn't there at all. It was only few words that were misinterpreted by him, spoken by the woman who fallen in love with him the first day she met him, ready to spend her life with him. When it hits Justin, as he stands in the house they first made love in, it also hits the audience. The sweetness of the scenes were two of them make love in bright, sunshine room mixed with Justin crying in the dark backyard is an incredibly powerful scene, but the force of it is magnified in the beautiful and haunting ending.
The movie manages to do the impossible – Justin is timid, polite, perfect gentleman. He takes care of his plants, he is very quiet, modest and reasonable. He is a diplomat and he respects the proper channels of action, he trusts his superiors. But he isn't stupid, he has mind of his own, he can predict what will certain actions cause. Tessa is his exact opposite – rebellious, lively, outspoken. She acts to save the world, save everyone, she uses deception, lies, half truths. Those two people are so different yet they fall in love. Justin gives Tessa peace and makes her feel safe. Tessa gives Justin love and happiness. It's the perfect relationship, but it works only because of two wonderful actors in lead roles.
Rachel Weisz won Academy Award for her astonishing performance. She deserved it – her Tessa is unforgettable, fascinating, ready to fight with everyone for just cause.. But if anyone here deserved Oscar is Ralph Fiennes. This is the guy who played lord Voldemort, Ammon Goeth and Francis Dollarhyde. Here he plays the complete opposite of those sinister, dangerous, creepy people. His Justin is an example of completely noble person with pure and good heart. It's impossible not to feel for him or to be astonished by his bravery as he courageously tries to find out the truth about his wife's death. I can't comprehend it that the guy who played a role where he kept shooting Jews from the balcony just for the fun of it in “The Schindler's List” here is equally convincing being devastated, slightly smiling and crying, whilst watching videos made by his beloved, deceased wife as she woke him up in the morning, gingerly reminding him to water his plants. It's such a powerful performance – usually when we see people almost too good to be true they are weak. But Justin's inner courage and strength of his love for Tessa allow him to do things most of us wouldn't be brave enough to do.
The heart of this movie lies in the love story, but “The Constant Gardener” is also an exciting political thriller, focused on how civilized countries exploit Africa. We all know it's happening. The movie's ending, although it carries a ray of hope, is still one single spark in the darkness. The love story had a huge impact on me, I could not stop crying during the ending, but I imagine there are many people who were more moved and shocked by the situation in Africa shown in the movie. The tender videos of Justin recording images of Tessa being pregnant with their child mix with shots of poverty and hopelessness. The coldness of London's luxurious restaurant is contrasted with the hot, orange desert of Africa. The cinematography is stunning and the movie is very well made, also due to great soundtrack that accompanies the beautiful images we look at.
If I had to chose the best love story of the decade “The Constant Gardener” would be on number 1 along with “Solaris”. The story of seemingly ordinary people with extraordinary bravery who fell in the kind of love, that makes your life meaningless when the person you love is gone. Tessa was Justin's home, his meaning of life, his light in the darkness. In the end if there is something worth dying for, it is the love like that.